The idea to write this article came to me in a flash of inspiration while talking to one of my best student’s mom about his learning progress. That mom was convinced that her son doesn’t give a 100% in language learning and he’s spending too much of his free time on playing computer games. It took me some time to convince her that playing computer games is not only a great stress revealing technique but it also develops more efficient learning and prosocial skills.
A magic kingdom has fallen into ruin but noble knight will protect the lands…
During my teaching career I have been surprised a couple of times by kids who knew such words as: chalice, realm, evade, armour, sabre, potion, endurance and other, rather sophisticated vocabulary which doesn’t come up in school books. Those were always heart-warming moments for me because I knew that „my kids” spent their time on learning something new outside the class. From my point of view, giving your students a scolding look for not learning from the school materials can jeopardize their need of exploring new things and their willingness to think outside the box.
The strongest impression and observation I have made on gamers are that by playing MMO (for instance World of Warcraft) your children are getting specialized in narrow study area, like for example: tactic knowledge, archery, cold weapon, or even textiles or forging. The possibilities are limitless. They can learn about Greek mythology, biology, science, archaeology, architecture and anatomy in a pleasant and almost unnoticeable way. MMO kids can memorize things much better, they boost their abstract thinking and communication skills on daily basis.
The power of game
Reviewing material for school test is not a particularly fascinating thing to do. Especially when you have to read the same information from the same book over and over again. It can make learning repulsive, unless you add some points, scores, stats, ranks, story and characters to it. Then you can repeat the same thing on and on for several hours, right?
According to Karl Kapp, who is a scholar at Bloomsburg University and expert on the convergence of learning, instructional technology and business operation, „Many games are based on a fantasy world and use fantasy as a backdrop for the story and actions. This has been found to be highly entertaining from a leisure perspective. But It can also be used to help people think through problems and situations they might not otherwise imagine”. The scholar explains that in order to engage learners and others into a given activity we have to apply:
- game mechanics (actions and systems that make progress visible)
- game thinking (using fun to problem solving)
to make the content more exciting. As Karl Kapp advocates „Serious games and gamification are both trying to solve a problem, motivate people, and promote learning using game-based thinking and techniques.” This is why you should use such elements as story, challenge, curiosity, mystery and characters whenever you want to engage and motivate your audience or when preparing some instructions and objectives while
The most important factor in gaming is that we are rewarded instantly after accomplishment. Game producers set to work our extrinsic and intrinsic motivation to fuel our learning process. They also make our achievements more measurable and tangible. Besides, in contrary to „real” world, the fantasy world gives us control over the plot, characters and their skills development. As the self-determination theory (SDT) states, game players feel highly motivated when they are the authors of their own actions.
MMO kid’s brain can do better
Daphne Bavelier from the University of Rochester who received Phd in Brain and Cognitive Science delivered a speech at the TEDxCHUV event in Lausanne, Switzerland on June 22, 2012 titled „Smarter, better, faster, stronger: your brains on action games”. She presented her research on how playing action games affects our attention, perception and cognition. Her research has proved that gaming:
- level vision (enhanced contrast sensitivity function),
- various aspects of attention (ability to monitor several objects at once, to search through a cluttered scene, to detect an event of interest in fast-forwarding video),
- more complex task constructs (multi-tasking, task-switching),
- general speeding of perceptual processing. (source: http://www.rochester.edu/news/video/bavelier-tedx-2012/)
Dr Daphne Bavelier said that „90% of school aged children play video games, but the average age of a gamer is 33y/o” which can lead to a conclusion that future gamers will be older adults. She argues that playing shot’em up games, like for example „Call of Duty”, has some powerful and positive effects on gamers behaviour. It can also, paradoxically, improve our eyesight! It is because gamers have to „resolve small details in the contexts of clutter” that is why they can read a fine print medicine label without glasses or any other help. Gamers can also „resolve different shades of gray” which can be priceless in case of avoiding car accidents when driving in a fog.
During her speech, Dr Daphne Bavelier proved also that, in contrary to our common belief, games don’t lead to attention problems or a greater distractibility. The truth is that gamers are capable of conflict resolving much faster than non-gamers. Multiple object tracking during an action game enhance attention control. As Dr Daphne Bavelier advocates, during playing action there are some major changes to the brain networks that control attention visible on MRI and those are:
- parietal lobe (orientating attention),
- frontal lobe (maintaining attention),
- anterior cingulate cortex (controlling or regulating attention).
As Dr Daphne Bavelier research shows „those three networks are much more efficient in people that play action games.”
Multitasking vs. Task Switching
As we all know, multitasking doesn’t work. A licensed psychologist Guy Winch claims that „when it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount”. What is more efficient is task-switching and when it comes to that gamers are second to none. They can also boasts heightened spatial visualization skills, faster eye-hand coordination and faster reaction time.
Paracelsus (The „Father of Toxicology”) said once that „all things are poison and nothing is without poison only the dose makes a thing not a poison.” Thus, we need to remember that everything has its drawbacks. Please don’t forbid your children to play computer games but keep an eye on what they are playing and for how long. Please also note that:
- Sitting for several hours non-stop increases your blood pressure, blood sugar, excess body fat and has a great impact on posture,
- Your muscles and ligaments are overworked,
- You can get socially isolated. The strongest relationships you have are moved to network.
Kapp, K. (2012) „The gamification of learning and instruction: game-based methods and strategies for training and education.” Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA